A Lamp For My Feet

Amy Zacaroli

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The Faith of A Child and Miracle Healings

              When I was 9 years old, I used to pray that my dad would grow his legs back.

              I didn’t come upon this prayer on my own. It never would have occurred to me to pray this because nobody in my family ever said we wish Dad could have his legs back. In fact, my dad went to great lengths to minimize his handicap, to not talk about his loss, to muster through pain and awkwardness without complaint. My dad is a hero, but a silent, quiet one. My dad was hurt in the Korean War and had both his legs amputated below his knees. In our family, his condition is simply a fact – a sad fact, yes – but not a tragedy. His injury led him to meeting my mom, who was his physical therapist when he was recovering in San Antonio, Texas. They got married and raised four children. Without the loss of his legs, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be the family we are.

              He never said, “I wish I had my legs back.” It became a family joke that it could take friends and acquaintances YEARS to discover that my dad is a double amputee. Every day, my dad got up, put his wooden legs on (that’s what they were back then, wooden) and he would go to work. He rarely used crutches and walked fairly smoothly. So smoothly that nobody would guess he is handicapped. And it’s not the kind of information my dad shared readily. While some people wear their handicap on their sleeves, my dad preferred to keep his hidden under his pant legs.

              So I don’t know how or when Mrs. B. discovered that my dad had no legs. My mom might have mentioned it to her one day after my gymnastics class or she may have seen him come in to the gym one day and sit down. But since I took gymnastics from Mrs. B. for six or seven years, we did get to know each other fairly well.

              She was not your typical gymnastics coach. I have no idea whether she ever competed in the sport herself in her younger years, but she was agile and flexible for her middle age and chubby physique. She had twin daughters who were gymnasts and she seemed to know pretty well how to teach the sport. She was round and she wore dark leggings that clung to her ample legs and rear. She had glasses and long gray hair that she wore in a bun everyday of her life.

              The most vivid memory I have of her, however, is her Bible. She carried it everywhere in the gym. It was a dark, soft cover with tissue-thin pages gilded in gold. She always had a pen or pencil tucked in her ear that she would use to underline verses. This was a gym in a public school for a class that was offered through the county. This was also the 1970s, so there weren’t such strong restrictions against proselytizing – or if there were she never adhered to them.

              Everything out of her mouth was a joyous thanks to God. Anytime we achieved a new skill, she threw her arms in the air, her head way back so that her smiling face pointed heavenward and yelled, “Praise the Lord!!” or “Hallelujah!” When she was disappointed, however, she always said, “God”, emphasizing the last letter hard.

              I remember her daughter coaching me to recite scripture before attempting any scary move so that I would have the strength and courage to go for it. She would hold prayer circles at the end of practice with the whole class. It was in one of these prayer circles that Mrs. B. prayed for healing for my dad. She told me that if I prayed hard enough, in the spring he would grow his legs back.

              So for those long winter months, I prayed every night that my dad would grow his legs back. I used to peek into the bathroom when he was in the tub to see if the miracle had happened yet. When the springtime came, and he still was an amputee, I was devastated. In tears, I told my parents.

              They were furious that such a huge and daunting task was put on their small daughter. I don’t remember if they ever said anything to Mrs. B., but I do remember them comforting me and saying that it wasn’t my fault my dad’s legs didn’t grow back and that it was a ludicrous idea to think his legs would grow back.

              So it has become family lore, whenever we mentioned Mrs. B., that story is retold and we get a chuckle out of it.

              That was more than 35 years ago. And as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to wonder more about her and actually admire her for her strong faith and convictions. I read Psalm 145 recently and could not help but just picture Mrs. B, exalting God, praising His name, singing of His greatness, all right there in that middle school gym. These words of praise from David describe her faith exactly.

1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.

3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
[b]
6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

              So I read these words and smile and think of her and realize she had it right. She celebrated God’s goodness and passed that onto her young classes. Our faith can move mountains. Our faith can grow a tiny seed into a huge tree, home to every bird. Is our faith strong enough to believe in supernatural healing? Hers  certainly was. Now I am not a Christian Scientist by any means and I don’t think she was either. I believe her whole life was spent with faith as pure as a child, exactly as Jesus taught us. “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:17. And in our prayer life, God says he wants us to pray with the faith of a child, not tainted by skepticism but full of confidence that He can and will do anything we ask in His will.

              And I think therein lies the nexus – in His will.

My dad, bless his heart, is 84 years old and still using his prosthetics, which are much improved now over the wooden clunkers of yore. And do you know how he has spent his past 11 years? Visiting the soldiers at the military hospital in our area, who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan missing limbs. These young soldiers wake up with no legs, no arms, injuries so horrific that in previous wars they would have died, save for recent medical advancements. And there is my dad, at the foot of their beds, standing and listening and giving hope. He tells them he has no legs, yet he raised a family, had a career, put his faith in God, and serves Him. He gives these soldiers hope.

              I have no doubt that this is God’s will for my dad – not a miracle healing for himself, but a healing he is bringing to hundreds of others.

 Although I prayed so hard that winter I was 9, with the innocent faith of a child, I am glad my prayers were answered differently. And sometimes, it takes 35 years to understand why.

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Nkosi and Enkosi

It is brutally hot this January evening in rural South Africa. And hotter still in the widow’s living room with 20 Xhosa women gathered for nightly prayer. We gather close to make room for each other, feeling each other’s heat and sweat as our arms touch. We fan ourselves with our Bibles.

 

 

Xhosa women have a strong faith and bond with each other.

Xhosa women have a strong faith and bond with each other.

I am one of three white women. My friend Lynne and I are lost in the Xhosa clicks, but the missionary’s wife understands.  I study their faces, some familiar and friendly. Some I’ve never seen. I wonder how each of them came to the Lord. I wonder their story, the pain they carry, the joys they lift high, their history and their present. Is that one married or widowed? Is she still a student? The widow, still wearing all black and will for a year, nurses her youngest, her ample breast a comfort for the baby who has lost his father. Her nursing young one something to cling to since her husband was taken too soon in a brutal murder.

 I listen to their voices, many are quiet and somber, so hard to hear. One who knows English squeezes in next to us to interpret. Pray for the church’s new members who just accepted Jesus. Pray for the youth who also say they just accepted Jesus, yet continue to drink and smoke daka. Pray for the longtime church members that they may have revival. Pray for the women in the community who are abused, the widow who is ill and cannot come to church any longer. The mama who was injured in an accident.

 

Canzibe countryside

Canzibe countryside

After each request, someone says Si thandaza – let us pray. Then every woman breaks out into their own aloud prayers. It sounds like Pentecost as the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples and they speak intongues. There is music to it – prayers rising and falling in this room. And the power of these prayers break through the walls of the widow’s well-made home and penetrate the community, floating across the green and lush hills to reach the unreached, the hurting, the lonely, the jealous, the angry, the lost – at least that is my prayer. I am awed by their commitment and passion and fervency.

When the final lone voice rests, we all say Amen. Then someone – anyone moved by the Spirit – breaks out in song. Their voices are pure, strong, confident and beautiful. The only accompaniment is the music in their soul. There is no need here for pianos or guitars. They all know each word by heart, the harmony, the melody – they’ve known all their lives with no need of books or musical scores. We try to follow, repeating Xhosa words whose deeply spiritual meanings are lost on us.

I am here without my family, defined only by myself, the work of 25:40 to help the orphans, and by our partners in the work — the missionary and his wife. I want to be a part of this community, to belong. I love these women, their children, the community and trying to learn the language.

In the final song, we are standing. The phrases are not repeating, so I give up in trying to follow and trying to appear as if I belong. I simply close my eyes and listen to their praise singing. And their song reaches deep inside me and floats out as a prayer. And then I hear it – Nkosi – the Xhosa word for God.

Then I remember that the same sounding word with the same root – enkosi — is the Xhosa word for thanks.  It’s the same in English how we say it so frequently and maybe not all that sincerely. Oh, thanks again! Thank you very much. Thank you. Thanks! How many times a day do we say that? And here, in Xhosa, enkosi sisi, if someone gives you something, does a favor, ends a meeting. enkosi, kos, enkosi kukuhle.

And then I smile huge – because the power of it tumbles out. In one moment an entire book, Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts, crystallizes. The Eurcharisteo that she has written about so passionately comes alive for me in this one moment where God and Thanksgiving unite in one Xhosa word. It’s the same word! Back home in the United States, in northern Virginia, where most live in excess, I’ve spent the past year giving thanks for my multitudes of blessings in order to draw closer to God. Here in the Eastern Cape, where most people live without running water, electricity and enough food in the pot for their large extended families living in one small round hut, the Xhosa already know – and have known for hundreds of years — that God and thanksgiving are one.

 I have been reading Ann Voskamp’s books and blogs for a couple years now, her own brokenness turned to joy because she dared to find God through giving thanks. Her devotions I just read this morning – about how we must live in the moment and slow down and give thanks to God in everything. And here I am in rural South Africa, my spiritual home. Here I can shed my American hurriedness, tear down my walls of protection. Here, the people walk slow, take time to greet each other, take time to know each other, to look deep inside you and see how you tick. They give thanks in the simple. They do not have excess. They do not even have enough, yet they give thanks. Thanksgiving to God.  I crave that for my own life.

And as I slowed down and just was still in that prayer meeting – not trying to sing in a language I do not know – I hear the Truth that exists everywhere – in rural South Africa, on a farm in Canada, in the capital of the free world – that God is thanks and giving thanks is God. Thank you Xhosa ladies, thank you Ann Voskamp, thank you God.

 

Friends Like Gold

I half invited it, the blow, the rebuke. I wasn’t hurt because she said it. I was hurt because I have no one to blame but myself.

My friend and I were talking about women who have decided to drop us, thrown out like yesterday’s newspaper. It’s just something we don’t understand. Once a friend, always a friend, right? What possible slight could I have done or my friend have done to make these ladies “break up” with us? And what kind of friendship is here today and gone tomorrow?  Around here, friends are acquired and dismissed like the newest Vera Bradley design.

Then I reassured my friend that she and I are always good. She will be my friend until I die. Although weeks may go by without my reaching out to her, it doesn’t mean she is any less my friend. And the she said it. Gently, but still she said it. “You are the type of friend I can call on when there’s an emergency. You are loyal. But you’re not available on a day-to-day basis.” I silently suck in a deep breath. Buffering the blow.

Not available.

What kind of friend isn’t available?

Synonyms for friends include:

contact – um, you have to be available to make contact;Amy and Aphele

associate – you have to be social to be a friend;

comrade – isn’t that someone who is next to you in battle?

workmate – the one next to you all the time.

Antonyms for friend – stranger. Yes, that is someone you don’t know because… they are not there with you. Not available.

Ouch.

Friends by definition have to be available. Synonyms for available include:

accessible – you need to be able to reach your friends. Okay, she can reach out to me when she needs me. I pass this one.

Open – Oh don’t get me started on this one. We can go to lunch with our friends or walk dogs with our friends, but are we really open with our lives? Can I tell my “friends” on our daily dog walk, “I just had the worst fight ever with my husband.” Or “My 13-year-old is lost and I have no idea what to do.” Mostly, we walk our dogs and talk about what’s for dinner, swim practice for the kids, the problems we’ve heard the “friend” down the street is having with her unruly teenager and how we would handle it so much differently.

Free – Am I free for my friends? Am I available? Or am I so busy with my own little life – even if life includes serving others and carrying out my faith in other ways – am I too busy to be a real friend?

Ouch.

Psalm 141:5 talks about “rebuke.”  “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness;

let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.” So I accept this correction from my friend as a blessing. And a blessing it is. It’s a wakeup call to be a friend, to be available, to be in contact and to be open — before I lose all my friends.

We all know the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Well, if my friends treated me like I’m treating them (not calling, not being in contact), I’d be getting a bit lonely. And I already am, truthfully. But Jesus commanded us to love each other as He has loved us. How did Jesus love his disciples? By teaching them, guiding them, showing them miracles, walking in their shoes, forgiving them, eating with them, washing their feet, and dying on the cross. Do I love my friends as He has loved me?

That’s a tall order. But can you imagine life in your family, on your street, in your school or workplace, if we all loved each other as He loved us? What kind of world could we create if we did this?

Join me in the challenge. Choose one friend or family member and try loving them as Jesus loved us. Do it for a day or a week or a month. Or choose one way to love as Jesus did and do that to as many friends and family members as you can. (Promise me you won’t die on the cross, though!) Then write back and share your experiences! I dare you to go beyond the Golden Rule and to change the world around you.

Your Inner Voice

          I have a friend named Connie who often talks about an inner voice, something telling her to do something she wasn’t planning. She has amazing stories of how she listened to that inner voice, obeyed the nudge to redirect herself in the small moments and they turned into big things.

            She is always encouraging others to listen to that inner voice. Last Friday, she and I both listened and we were brought together for just a short, but very special moment.

            Full disclosure: Connie leads the Bible study I’m in on Wednesday mornings. Most weeks she gives “homework” and most weeks I either never do it or I cram Tuesday night. Last week, I set aside the morning after Bible study to contemplate a question she had given us. (First example of listening to inner voice). I was thinking about a friend whom I wish I were closer to and remembered that this friend had “won” a beautiful basket at 25:40’s silent auction last November. Connie had made the basket filled with really wonderful crafts to help families explore scripture and prayer together. It was my sentimental favorite silent auction item.

            Then I remembered, with great shame, that I had never thanked Connie for making the basket. I felt so awful and small as a friend, and then just plain derelict as the co-founder of 25:40, the organization she helped by making this basket.

            I went to the computer to write. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write, but it turned out to be story of this friend of mine and how we need to heal our relationship and how she is tied to the basket.

The next morning, Friday, I woke up with a resolve that if I did nothing else that day, I would make it to Connie’s church and deliver her the letter and a small gift. I had in mind I would give Connie a scarf because she wears them frequently and does so with such dignity and beauty. I went downstairs to the box of art and craft items we have purchased inSouth Africa. These crafts are made by HIV positive women, most of them mothers, for a source of income to help feed their families and keep themselves healthy.

            I found the scarf I had in mind and studied it carefully, then laid it aside. Then I pulled out pillow coverings and some jewelry. I had a hard time deciding – knowing that what I had in mind originally, the scarf, but hearing an inner voice saying, “No not the scarf. The pillow cover.” I chose the pillow cover and a bracelet, wrapped it and quickly sent an e-mail to her to see if she would even be at the church.

            I didn’t hear back from her so I set out anyway and decided I could just leave it in the church office for her if she weren’t there. I called my husband at the start of my 15-20 minute drive to talk to him about something but he wasn’t there. As I was pulling into the church parking lot, he called. I contemplated not answering it and quickly delivering the gift and then calling him back. Inner voice #3 said answer the phone. I sat in the parking lot of the church for a good 15 minutes talking to him. Only when I finished my conversation with him, did I go inside. As I walked into the narthex from the outside, Connie was also walking into the narthex from an inner hallway.

            Connie is the pastor’s wife. She has many responsibilities there, but is usually not there on Fridays (so I later learned). With the church’s 50th anniversary celebration that weekend, she was anxious about the flowers and plants so had left home and gone up to the church to make sure they were watered. She was heading back home when an inner voice told her, “Go to the office. Go to the office.” She said she didn’t need to go to the office and didn’t know what she would do when she got there, but she listened and headed to the office. That’s when I walked in.

            Turns out that for awhile she had noticed an empty spot on her couch that needed a pillow. But she didn’t want just any pillow. She had perused charity catalogs to get a pillow that had meaning behind it, perhaps a pillow that, if she purchased, would help a mother and child. I didn’t know this at the time I was choosing between the scarf and the pillow cover. In fact, I don’t know a lot of things about Connie. We barely talk outside of Bible Study. I was actually nervous going to meet her because of this. Would she think I was weird all of the sudden giving her a gift?

            As we stood there in the narthex, baffled by our chance meeting, I explained to her how lame I was to have not thanked her in November for the basket. She graciously waved away any thought or concern she had about that. Then she said, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you something.” And she explained some Pinterest ideas she had for me that would help spread the word about 25:40 and how to share 25:40’s story via Pinterest. I had just that week completely given up on Pinterest and allowed my 12-year-old daughter to fully overtake my account because I was at a loss on how to use it. Here she was pinning the 25:40 logo around and helping me start telling the 25:40 story through Pinterest.

            So we parted ways and I floated the rest of the day. I was blessed by her reaction and by her sharing. Only later did we both get to share how, as she put it in an e-mail to me the next day, “the Lord’s hand was written all over our meeting.”

            Listen to the inner voice. How often do we set aside our own agendas to listen to follow the nudge instead? It may come to you in different ways. I have found that the more I spend my day in prayer, just talking to God and seeking His wisdom as I go about my day, the clearer that inner voice speaks.

        My husband Alec has been listening to his inner voice and God is telling him to do big and radical things right now. But that’s another story.

I encourage you to listen for that inner voice… God’s purpose await you.

Easter Lessons

The 40 days of Lent and Easter Day have come and gone and I am left wondering what actions, words or deeds of mine may have exemplified to my four kids that the season is more than about chocolate and eggs and The Hunger Games.

My 10-year-old decided this year for Lent she would try fasting. I don’t know where she came up with the idea but of course I jumped all over it. We picked a day when she wouldn’t be going to the gym and when we had the flexibility to eat earlier than our usual 8 p.m. So each Wednesday of Lent, she fasted and I joined her. When she got off the bus every Wednesday afternoon and dramatically announced how hungry she was, I would suggest for her to lean on God’s strength and remember Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. But she just rolled her eyes.

Nobody else in the family talked much about Lent and nobody else (husband included) was inspired to join us in fasting. We said grace at dinner and went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays during Lent. I had every intention of involving the kid sin  a crafty Ann Voskamp-like Lenten tree, or making a Grace garden during Holy Week with them.

Holy Week came and went with the kids off of school. We had a great break sleeping late, riding bikes, going to my son’s baseball games, taking care of neighbors’ dogs. But to prepare for Easter, we did none of those things. We dyed eggs.

Yes, on Good Friday we watched the Passion for the first time as a whole family – except for the really awful part I took our youngest one upstairs. I don’t know what lasting impression the movie made on the kids. We still need to have that conversation.

And speaking of conversations that need to happen. At 3 o’clock on Good Friday my 12-year-old (who is sometimes the doubting Thomas of the family) came into the office where I was working and said, “It’s 3 o’clock. Jesus is dying right now, right?” And I turned around to face her, pleasantly astonished. “Yes, that’s right,” I answered her. And she slowly walked out of the room and that was all. I turned back to the computer screen.

I think back to that moment and cringe. What a huge opportunity I missed – a cavernous opening (like the empty tomb) to talk to her about the most important moment in all of Christianity.

If I had to relive that moment – or if I were Michelle Anthony or Victoria Osteen – I would perhaps follow my daughter and sit her down and hug her and pray with her. “Jesus is dying right now for your sins and my sins. Let us together confess all our sins and then live in the joy that in three days, we are washed clean!”

But I’m just me.

Broken. Quiet. Weak. Ordinary. A lukewarm Christian.

I missed the chance to let loose what’s inside of me every morning –

joy that we’ve been given another day together as a happy, healthy family;

thankful that we have many blessings;

ashamed we have too many blessings because we take them for granted,

humbled that He gives us a new chance everyday to do His will;

hopeful that I will be His vessel and through me His light will shine.

When I was growing up – the youngest of four children – I would pipe up at the dinner table with whatever was inside me, trying to add to the conversation of my parents and older siblings. Sometimes after I said something, they would all just look at me, a sarcastic or sad look on their faces, and someone would say, “Well, you missed a good chance.”

And that meant I had missed a good chance to say something intelligent. So I grew up holding most of my chances inside me rather than facing criticism. My family also criticized people who talked too much or took too long to tell their stories. I turned into a listener.

Now, in my 46th year, I’m still a listener and not even a good one. I’m married to a great story-teller. I live vicariously through him. One of my best friends – who is so full of life and passion and energy – takes FOREVER to tell a story. But it’s always a good story, a really good story, revealing layers of emotions. She opens up so wide and allows us all in. I feel like I know her well and I adore her.

I wonder if my closest friends and family can say they know me well. I wonder how they describe me. Am I full of life and passion and energy. Does God’s light shine through me? Do they think of me and say, “She’s such a great example of God’s will?” I wish.

My fear is that nobody really knows me. I hide inside my house or myself most of the day, working on 25:40, driving the kids, grocery shopping, cleaning. I go to Bible Study Wednesday mornings and sometimes I sit there and don’t say anything. I dread the times when we have to break into groups of three or four and share what we did for Easter. I am always reluctant and last – and people either gloss over that I haven’t shared or they stare at me with eyes that say, “Umm, it’s your turn. Step up to the plate.”

My fear is that I don’t really know myself. I know what I want to be but I don’t know how to break out of my shell. Maybe I live what I want to be on the inside, but never show it – to my own children, to my family, to my neighbors, to my friends in Christ, to the world.

Jesus says in Luke 8:16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.”

Jesus has lit my lamp, but I’ve kept it hidden. Isnt’t that the ultimate sin? The ultimate slap in the face to God, to be given a treasure and then bury it?

God lights me. No longer can I hide.

After Easter I am made new.

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